Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Album Review: Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Swans is one of those bands, like Neurosis, that all the kids claim are a huge influence on them, but that the general populace remains woefully ignorant of.  And it's obvious why; they were never released on a major label, and they haven't put out new music since 1997, the band having gone on to do many other things in other groups (most notably Jarboe, who has worked with just about every experimental metal group at this point).

Thank heavens, however, that bandleader Michael Gira decided it was time to get the band back together - and while Jarboe doesn't return, Gira enlists former bandmate Norman Westburg with some new faces and has created one of the most electrifying albums of the year.

I can't think of another album that's started with a bigger bang than the opening track here, "No Words/No Thoughts".  It's nearly ten minutes of brutality, from the cacophonous bells that ring in the song to the decay of the closing strain.  This is an opening statement to defeat all others - a glorious return to form to a certain degree, but with new energy and sinister seething.

After this, it calms down considerably (and necessarily); the following tracks, while less imposing, still have an electricity that pulses underneath, until "My Birth" erupts yet again with force and violence.  The most terrifyingly moving track follows, "You F*#$ing People Make Me Sick", which features a duet between indie-rock darling Devendra Banhart and Gira's three-year-old daughter - but don't think because Banhart is here that this is anything like indie music.

But it doesn't stop there.  "Eden Prison" attacks the senses, an aural assault as heavy as any sludge metal group, before closing out with "Little Mouth", filled with bizarre noises and uncomfortable juxtapositions of sound, followed by a sixties-country-inspired calmness that oozes with catharsis as it ends with just Gira's unique vocals.

Final verdict: Adore it
This thing is huge, and one of the best releases of the year.  It's a wonderful gateway to the world of Swans if you're not familiar with their past work, and it's a welcome return of pioneers for old fans.  "No Words/No Thoughts" may be the best song of the year so far (its only real competition is "All Delighted People" by Sufjan Stevens, and you couldn't ask for a different type of tune), and the rest of the album is equally weighty.

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